My family moved around a lot when I was young. As a result I had to make new friends at every school. I am very happy being alone or in a one on one relationship so it was never a problem for me. I have had many “best” friends in my life but one loved me as no other ever could. It was a friendship that would last a life time. Hers.
I met Suzanne in November of grade 5. I had just moved to Strathmore. We were in different home room classes so we were acquaintances. The first day of school brought an exuberant girl named Dixie into my life. She was to be my first best friend in the new school. She hooked me to her life and dragged me along with her. That was her way. She even got me into trouble the first day in class. That was her way as well. Grade six brought together a foursome of Dixie, Marlene, Maureen and myself. Best friends were based on home room assignments back then. I still crossed paths with Suzie but she was in a different home room. Throughout grade six Marlene and I became closer as we both lived in town. A friendship based on proximity. The summer came and went and Marlene and I were inseparable. September dawned and we all started on a new adventure. Junior High. Grade seven.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Marlene and I were sitting on her front step. It was a beautiful evening. Suzanne’s family had recently moved from the farm into a house in town. Both my mom and dad and Marlene’s parents were at the new house. Our three fathers all worked together and the entire office had popped in for a surprise house warming party. We girls were left to our own devices. Suddenly Suzanne and her chum Nina rode by on their bikes. We all waved and called hello and then Marlene was lost in thought for a bit chewing something over in her mined. Her next words changed my life forever. “Our Dads are all friends and they all work together. Suzanne should be our friend.” Marlene looked at me to see what I thought. Well in all honesty I didn’t follow her logic and I didn’t really care so I just mumbled “OK.” “Good'” Marlene replied. “I’ll tell her tomorrow.” And she did. Suzanne joined our twosome, Dixie went cowboy and I have no idea what happened to Maureen. I’ll have to ask her. We reconnected twenty years later and she is a bestie again.
A few days went by and Marlene either had a change of heart or she was going into phase two of her plan to ditch me. The three of us met up in the morning to walk to school together. The walk was uneventful until we reached the school. Marlene turned to Suzanne and I and announced that she had decided to be friends with Kathy Van Weezel. She turned and walked away leaving us standing looking after her, somewhat confused. Well, the threesome was now a twosome. Suzie and I were in the same homeroom class so we had all we needed to be best friends. We took it in stride and never looked back. I will forever be grateful to Marlene Martin.
We were an odd pair. Suzanne did her homework, I skipped school. She was punctual and I was always late. Her home was orderly and spotless. Mine was chaos and confusion. I was the youngest in a spreadout family. By the time Suzie was in my life most of my siblings were married and I had four nephews and nieces. My closest sibling was five years older. Our home was quiet and fairly liberal. She was also the youngest but there were five kids in five years. And they were all there. We had sleepovers but usually at my house. I think it was a sanctuary of sorts for Suzanne. She called my parents Mor and Far. Danish for Mom and Dad. When she wanted to have a party she had it at my house. As we got older she got into a lot of trouble with my Dad but he knew how to handle her. Or maybe she knew how to handle Dad. I had loads more freedom than Suzie so it was up to me to get her out. I knew how to get around my folks. I argued and put up a fuss. Suzie was more of a rule follower but in the end became very inventive and devious. My parents were inconsistent but the give and take relationship worked out in my favour. I didn’t miss a single rock concert from the age of thirteen so there is that. Suzie’s first concert was when we were around 48. Talk about a misspent youth. Once she was out of the confines of home, that girl had fun. We had fun. She knew all of my secrets. All of them. I trusted her. She may have trusted me a little less due to a certain perm fiasco. In my defense, I just want to say, you get what you pay for Suzie.
Junior high had a few bumps but our bond deepened. There were fights both verbal and physical. That girl throws a mean punch. Through it all, we were inseparable. I may have had the freedom but Suzanne had the ideas. Like the time we had a substitute teacher with two ear piercings in one ear. We talked about how cool she was on the way home from school. The next day Suzie had an extra hole in her ear. She looked to me for help on that one but I couldn’t do it. Ugh, blood. I was willing to help with the home perm though. I had done my own hair a few times so she may have thought I could be trusted. Ha! Did you know not all hair is the same? Well my bestie looked like a poodle. One that was run over by a lawn mower, dragged behind a car, tossed in a dogs water dish and left to dry overnight. But I told her it looked good. I mean really, what are best friends for? There was that one long piece that didn’t curl. It was straight as an arrow and stuck out at the oddest angle. I snipped it off as there was just no hiding it. She never forgave me. You know when you look back and share stories and laugh? She never laughed. Fourty years later she still didn’t think it was funny. But it was pretty funny. It was also her idea to go skinny dipping in the irrigation canal out by the golf course. Every good idea has a down side. We floated along happily laughing and splashing until just before the north road. The current brought us down but the only way back was to get out and walk. Past a multitude of golfers. We ran like the dickens. My only hope was that my Dad wasn’t golfing that day. I am a member at that same golf course now and not a game goes by when I don’t think about that day. That feeling we had of freedom. No responsibility. The exhilaration of the cold water and the pounding hearts from the run as well as the fear of being caught. The laughter and joy of spontaneity. The warmth of the sun on our naked bodies as we laid in the grass by our cars. Stereo up and windows down, we sang along as mother nature dried our skin. That is as close to God as you can ever get on this earth.
Grade nine brought us into different home room classes. She brought another friend into the mix while I had a long time boyfriend. We drifted a bit that year but the hijinx continued. It was clear we were on different paths. We were both on the volleyball team but I also did basketball, badminton and track. Suzie took to writing poetry and her creative side showed in home economics. We still walked to and from school together and still shared our favourite after school snack of fried canned mushrooms, scramble eggs and tuna with mayo. All dusted with a liberal amount of garlic powder. By this time Suzie was spending a little more time being grounded. The details aren’t necessary so suffice it to say it was usually warranted. Her parents were becoming more aware and we had to step up our game. Sleeping over on a weekend was the easiest but we could only count on that once, maybe twice a month. I struggled with lying since I didn’t have to lie to my own parents. I was much better with the sneaking out of the house scenario in which I occasionally aided and abetted my dear friend.. For some misguided reason Suzie’s folks trusted me. In grade ten they asked me to stay overnight with her when everyone in the family was going to be away and she would be alone. Alone! Having me there wasn’t going to do much other than keep stuff from being broken. I was an expert in the art of safe party throwing. The night had us going to a big party in Calgary and around fifteen people came back to the house afterwards. Around 4 a.m. we heard sirens so we crammed into a couple of cars and headed for the highway. Wrapped in blankets we huddled together and watched a local business burn to the ground. It was a small town so this was big excitement. As the sun rose we headed to a 24 hour truck stop for breakfast then back to Suzanne’s to sleep. Probably not what her parents expected but it was a wonderful night.
Senior High was a difficult time for me. Although University was never pushed on me or talked about, I assumed I would one day end up there. My siblings all did some sort of post secondary and so it seemed to be the logical next step. So I took matric classes. Suzie and most of my friends went the general studies route so quite a few of my classes had me in foreign territory. Her beautiful auburn hair and cute little figure didn’t go unnoticed by the male population. No doubt about it, Suzanne was a looker. Suzanne’s group expanded and she was the life of the party. Always smiling she was so much fun to be around. Out of class my crowd changed as well. If you watch Dazed and Confused, the movie, it will give you a good idea of my high school years. The cars, the music and the fun. In fact, there is a cute red head in the movie that catches they eye of an older guy. Just like our Suzie. Suzanne’s husband Terry told me about the first time he set eyes on Suzie. Picking up her older brother one Friday night, Terry saw this sweet little gal sitting on the front step. He felt something in his heart that night. And so as high school progressed Suzanne and I still hung around together but the crowd was bigger and older. Grade twelve saw me off to Camrose College for two years. Suzie came to stay in my dorm room on weekends now and again but it was clear we were headed in different directions. Even in Camrose she made her own group of friends. After Graduation I bummed around Europe for a bit and Suzanne hit the ground running all the way to Calgary. We drifted further and further in our everyday lives but our friendship never wavered.
Terry finally got to know that little red head he fell in love with one summer evening and they were soon married. Fate brought us together as real family when I married Suzanne’s older brother. Real sisters now she would say. Don’t get me wrong, there were disagreements. Even though we were grown up we sometimes didn’t act like grown ups. I guess you could say we acted like family. Time heals all though and we always made up. As we grew older we bonded in the family as sisters would. Complain to each other about family stuff. She gave me a plaque once that said “Best friends don’t judge each other. They judge other people together.” It hangs on my wall. It sums up our late night phone conversations. I gave her a card once that read “I love sharing eye rolls with you at family gatherings.” The friendship had a life of its own. We both had people in our lives who were special. People with whom we had more in common. Those were the people we spent the majority of our time with. Took trips with. In the end we always turned to each other to help us through our struggles. Like sisters. My biological sister Anne was the perfect sister. She was ten years older and loved me so much. She was kind and loving and did special things for me always. She was a large part of why my childhood was so great. We drifted as adults do but the bond is strong even now. I realize that is the relationship Suzanne and I had developed. Suzie and I grew from friendship to sisters. In the end there was only love and support. I was lucky to have found her. I guess I was lucky Marlene found her for me.
Suzanne continued her creative ways and was always showing me some new crafts she was working on. Terry had an Aunt who made baby quilts and when she passed away, Suzie took over the role of quilt maker. They were beautiful. She spent hours picking just the perfect patterns and colours. Little masterpieces that would be treasured for years. She loved to organize parties and was always helping someone with wedding decorations. When I renovated my cabin, she spent hours picking out just the right decorations. The entire house has her touch. When my oldest daughter was married she dragged me from store to store buying just the perfect items to decorate the hotel banquet room. She was meticulous whether at home or at work. She could always be counted on and would drop everything to help a friend. Or even a stranger. She went out of her way to help one of my nieces get a job using her contacts to make it happen. She settled into life as a farm wife and took her turn volunteering with the community. Unlike some women, Suzanne developed a close and loving relationship with her mother-in-law. Clara was like another Mom to Suzanne. Springtime brought slow pitch and Suzanne loved to play. It was a fun time for both us and our kids as we spent many years at weekly double headers. I was usually a spectator unless someone needed that extra girl but Rene and his brother were always on a team often playing against their sister. Her massive garden did over time on the green bean patch in order to provide all of her nieces and nephews with jars of Auntie Suzanne’s famous pickled beans. Halloween was one of Suzies favourite times of years. Her ideas were always elaborate and time consuming. Man she had me slaving away over costumes. Each year had themes. Her first pregnancy had Suzanne dressed as an angel with a nice baby bump while Terry was done up as a little red devil. I don`t think she fooled anyone. She was clever and always thinking ahead. One year our costumes were green pumpkin suits with yellow sleeves. When five of us stood in a row we looked like a caterpillar. Those were lined with red and white striped fabric. The next year they were turned inside out. Some plastic dry cleaner bags bunched at the legs and neck and we looked like candy mints. My favourite was the California raisons. We looked awesome. Hot but fabulous. Our annual Halloween fundraiser was always a hit.
Suzanne took up golfing in her younger years. She became really good over time but early on she had quite a few “do-overs” as she called them. She also had her own unique rules. If you could run and pick up the tee shot and bring it back in less than 5 seconds, it did not count. One day we were out together and she turned to me and said “You know I’ve been golfing for ten years and I’m not getting and better. My scores are the same as they always were.” I laughed and told her, “You are getting better. At least now you count all of the strokes.” She was competitive as well. All it took was some guy to comment on her ability in a sport and she would fume and then practice, practice, practice. You know that saying “I don’t get mad I get even?” Well Suzie did get mad, but then she got better! For a skinny thing she sure could pound a ball. She gave it her all whether it was on the golf course, the baseball diamond or the volleyball court.
The years passed and she welcomed two kids. I was with her when she took the test for the first pregnancy. We were ecstatic. Tori has always held a special place in my heart because of that day I felt like I knew her first. True to our relationship, we were on the outs when she became pregnant with Thomas. No idea why. We had so many spats. We were both hot headed. Rene and I were struggling with fertility issues at the time and Suzie was told that she should downplay her happiness to spare my feelings. So she did what Suzanne did best. She said screw you and called me with her news, and the fight was forgotten. She knew I would share her joy. And the years passed and more children blessed our lives. And one day we shared a family holiday where our granddaughters sat playing together at our feet. The circle of friendship was complete and those two second cousins have become close friends. Suzanne had two grandchildren and they were the pure joy in her life. She told me once she was in the parking lot at the grocery store and heard this little voice shouting “Grandma, Grandma.” It was her Granddaughter shouting out of her Mom’s car window. Wanting to come for an impromptu sleepover. Children love in a pure way. For Suzanne that love was the greatest gift.
Suzie retired and soon she and Terry we headed off to warmer climes from January to April. These were happy times for Suzanne. They had a routine. Mexico, someplace new, and then Palm Springs. Home between trips long enough to wash some clothes and check mail. Then off again. They made friends that became a big part of their lives. They loved the warmth and they came home rejuvenated. We saw little of each other during these months but she would touch base with me to let me know where they were and what they were up to. She always sent me a text on my birthday from wherever they were. When she was home we were busy with our everyday lives but our go to was late night phone calls. We would talk for hours and hours. No topic was off limits. When I bitched about Rene’ he was my husband and not her brother. She always took my side. Lazy summer days at the cabin with just us two or with the grandbabies were special. Reading on the beach. Sitting on the deck. The quiet or noisy time of old friends. We still shared secrets. We shared our fears when health issues entered our lives. Mostly we just knew someone had our back.
March of last year I was at the cabin with two girlfriends from elementary school. Maureen of the famous grade six foursome and Rhonda, our other lovely grandma. All of us had weaved in and out of Suzie’s life through the years. In the evening we played cards and had a wonderful visit. They asked about Suzanne and I told them about her latest trip. She was having issues with blisters on her feet and wasn’t able to wear shoes. Just flip flops. In March. The next morning is frozen in my mind. Saturday. We were getting ready to hit the local shops and I had just stepped out of the shower. My phone was lit up. I had missed a call from Suzie’s number and two from home. I knew something bad had happened. With both Suzie and Rene calling me it had to be Pat. Their mother. My mother in law. I called Rene’ back and when he answered he confirmed my fears. “I have bad news” he said. But it wasn’t his Mom. It was Suzanne. She had passed away Friday night.
I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. My brain just couldn’t take it in. I had to hang up. I had to stop crying. I went upstairs and told Rhonda. She took charge. Yelled at Maureen. Told me to get packed. We were leaving. Going home. Maureen came down the stairs and when she heard the news, she collapsed to the floor. We huddled on the floor forever it seemed holding each other and sobbing. We decided to stay at the cabin. Rene’ was with his family and I was with the two people who had known Suzanne most of their lives. We spent the day using snowshoes to write her name in the snow on the lake. Then trespassed through a number of yards to try and get a picture of our tribute. We bought four mugs to keep at the cabin. One for each of us to toast our friend whenever we got together. We shared memories and laughed at some of the more outrageous stories. I learned that my best friend in the whole world didn’t tell me everything. Maureen shared a funny tale about some shenanigans she had with Suzie. Turns out they didn`t do well in French class. I knew nothing about it. Suzie could keep a confidence. Maureen too. It was the best place to be when something so wonderful is ripped from your life. At a place Suzie loved with people who knew her well.
The days that followed are a blur. I remember sitting alone in the hot tub yelling at her for leaving me. Suddenly there was a strange calmness came over me and I knew she was there. One day I was parking my car ready to go to the gym when Rene’ called me. The conversation escapes me but I was grumpy. I immediately called Suzie to bitch and complain. It took me a moment to remember. And I cried. I was lost. Truth be told, I still am. I feel alone. It wasn’t until I lost Suzanne that I knew how lucky I was to have someone love me so much. As I sat there that day a song came on. “You’re my best friend” by Queen. It was Suzanne. She answered me when I needed her. She still does now and again. It`s not the same.
Rene’ has another sister Debbie. Deb told me she re-reads their texts to each other. It helps her. So I go back over our messages to each other. Suzanne and me. Our precious words. Our deepest thoughts. Our love. What I read is pedantic. Everyday. Something like this.
- SUZIE: Wanna do lunch? I’m in the city shopping.
- ME: I’m sick.
- SUZIE: O.K. Next time.
- ME: No. Let’s do Vietnamese. I need soup.
- SUZIE: Where?
- ME: By Sunridge.
- SUZIE: K. I’m at the Bay.
- ME: I’m here. ME: Hello ME: I’ll get us a table ME: Where are you ???? Suzie walks in the door…
I told my son Sam about our texts. He reminded me that we shared everything over the phone or in person. My conversations were in my heart. He is right. But the last birthday text says it all. She wrote ~Happy Happy Birthday to my beautiful forever sister. Love you bunches~. Suzanne is everywhere I look. She speaks to me through music. She visits me in my dreams. She lives on in her daughter. Did she send Maureen and Rhonda to be with me when she went away? I think so. Its Marlene Martin all over again. Thank you Suzanne. My beautiful forever sister…